March 13, 2016. The headline in Haaretz on Thursday heralded a change in Israel’s policy on Gaza: To allow residents of Gaza to travel abroad without quotas, on condition they sign a pledge not to return for at least a year. On the one hand, we welcome a change in policy that could allow Gaza residents to travel abroad. For those seeking to emigrate or who already planned to stay abroad long-term, this could help them do so. On the other hand, there’s everyone else, or almost all the other residents of Gaza for whom this doesn’t work and doesn’t help.
Students enrolled to study abroad, medical patients seeking treatment abroad or those who wish to visit relatives abroad in humanitarian circumstances still have to meet strict criteria and a quota of up to 100 travelers per week.
The new policy means you might be able to transit via the West Bank to get abroad, but if you just want to visit your daughter and grandchildren living two hours away in the West Bank, you still can’t do except under the most exceptional of circumstances (usually grim ones, like a severe illness or death). A young resident of Gaza can maybe travel abroad for study, but she can’t attend university in the West Bank. A coach from an organization that promotes sports activities for young people with disabilities won’t be able to get to a training in the West Bank, nor will a hi-tech entrepreneur manage to get to a meeting with her investors in Ramallah.
The need for access to and from Gaza is well-known. At times when Rafah Crossing was open more regularly and people were able to travel to get to the outside world, 40,000 exits and entrances were recorded there each month. In comparison, this year so far, 294 Gaza residents per month crossed from Erez to Allenby Bridge, connecting the West Bank to Jordan. So yes, the need for another route abroad is critical and supposedly this new provision, if implemented, could help some people, but it’s not just good news, far from it.
Freedom of movement means the ability to leave and return to one’s home. Limiting that right to travel in one direction raises questions and emphasizes the absurdity of other access restrictions. The reason for the restrictions isn’t just security, which could be assured by individual checks, which are comprehensive, but rather the policy that seeks to separate Palestinians living in Gaza from those in the West Bank.
Going abroad, it turns out, might be ok in certain instances, and all the better if those that go aren’t in a hurry to return.